January 31, 2014

Scholar-Athlete Profile: Dylan Cunningham

The Franklin & Marshall scholar-athlete profile features one Diplomat per month who personifies what it means to be an NCAA student-athlete. The F&M campus is filled with dedicated, passionate, and talented student-athletes who have interesting stories to tell – and it's our goal to let those stories be heard. To be chosen as a scholar-athlete of the month, F&M student-athletes must demonstrate academic excellence, leadership, and community service, or have a noteworthy story that stretches beyond the realm of athletic competition. 

Dylan Cunningham was down 2-1 after dropping his previous two games to the reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year on the nation's No. 3 team. It was the same team that captured a national championship in 2012; the same team that held a 24-match winning streak over Franklin & Marshall, a mark that dated back to the 1986-87 season. 

Even though the Diplomats held a stunning 4-0 lead in the contest, Cunningham's match could have easily turned the momentum in Princeton's direction if the sophomore from Moreland Hills, Ohio, had not found a way to keep his composure and rally in the final two games. Fortunately for F&M, Cunningham did just that, and in the process helped seal a 7-2 win over a Collegiate Squash Association (CSA) powerhouse, perhaps the biggest in the history of the program. 

"It was incredible to beat Princeton," said Cunningham. "The team celebration was full of hugs, high-fives and congratulations to everyone. We had worked much harder than ever before and the win displayed the direct results of our hard work. Hard work doesn't always pay off immediately, but we were lucky enough to see the direct effects of it." 

Since arriving on campus last year, Cunningham's hard work has continued to pay dividends. His improved play has helped fortify the bottom half of the Diplomats' lineup to the tune of 23-straight wins, which dates back to Dec. 7, 2012, while opening the season with a team-leading 10-0 record. Three of those victories have come against team's ranked third or higher at the time of competition, including a sweep of No. 3 Yale followed by a grueling 3-2 win from the No. 9 spot against No. 1 Trinity. 

"Dylan in his first year put a lot of pressure on himself to win every match he played in while focusing on results more than how he was playing," said head coach Gavin Jones. "This season he has learned from his freshman year and is now a mature player who understands his role within the squash team and has been focusing on having a positive mind set when coming into practice and matches." 

The success as an individual and as a team that Cunningham and the Diplomats, who are currently the sixth-ranked team in nation, have experienced this year has not taken away from the time and effort he dedicates to his schoolwork, and the extracurricular programs he has fully invested himself in. Cunningham is a U.S. Squash Scholar Athlete, a member of the F&M Dean's and Honor Lists and is part of the school's Delphic Honorary Society. 

He is also an active member in the Student-Athletics Advisory Committee (SAAC) as well as Squash A.C.E.S, which provides a high-quality enrichment program for underserved middle and high school students in the School District of Lancaster. 

The program was started at F&M in 2009 by then president, John Fry. A.C.E.S. stands for Attitude, Community, Excellence and Scholarship, which the F&M squash staff and student volunteers aim to achieve by teaching kids the game of squash, as well as assisting the students with their homework and helping them prepare for college. 

"With a busy schedule both academically and athletically, I try and always find time to volunteer at Squash A.C.E.S.," said Cunningham. "The team helps with the on court improvement of the kids, and it is easy to see that they do genuinely enjoy the team's presence as volunteers and can see the possibilities of where squash can take them in their life." 

Even with his time and energy being dedicated to the multiple aspects of his active collegiate life, Cunningham is revered for the hard work and dedication he consistently contributes to every venture he chooses to pursue.

"Dylan is a very hard working student-athlete," said Jones. "He works very hard in the classroom and works hard on the squash court. He is a great team player that pushes everyone around him to improve their game, always listens and wants to learn, and is not afraid to ask questions about different ways of playing and how to get the best from himself each day." 

"To be part of a successful team I know that the team's goals must comes first," said Cunningham. "I always give 100 percent effort each day in school, in practice and in matches to represent the team well. Each teammate trusts the next teammate to put in 100 percent effort each day, which creates a cohesive unit." 

A government major, Cunningham chose F&M over such Ivy League schools as Columbia and Cornell because he enjoyed the size of the small liberal arts campus, but also liked the direction he saw the squash program going under Jones' guidance. It also didn't hurt that his brother Patrick was a junior at the college and a standout in the Diplomats' lineup. 

"We have always been very close and the opportunity to spend two semesters with him at school was crucial in choosing F&M," said Cunningham. 

After graduation, Cunningham plans to pursue a career as a professional squash player, which has always been a dream of his, but he is also interested in the fields of public policy and law.